ISIS Plotting in Europe, U.S. Official Says ; Intelligence Chief Warns of Secret Cells in Italy, Germany and Britain

By Eric Schmitt; Alissa J Rubin | International New York Times, April 27, 2016 | Go to article overview

ISIS Plotting in Europe, U.S. Official Says ; Intelligence Chief Warns of Secret Cells in Italy, Germany and Britain


Eric Schmitt; Alissa J Rubin, International New York Times


James R. Clapper Jr. warned of clandestine cells in Britain, Germany and Italy resembling the groups that carried out the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks.

The Islamic State is operating clandestine terrorist cells in Britain, Germany and Italy, similar to the groups that carried out the attacks in Paris and Brussels, the top-ranking American intelligence official said this week.

When asked if the Islamic State was engaging in secret activities in those nations, the official, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, said on Monday: "Yes, they do. That is a concern, obviously, of ours and our European allies." He then added, "We continue to see evidence of plotting on the part of ISIL in the countries you named." ISIL is another name for the Islamic State.

Mr. Clapper, who was speaking to reporters at a breakfast meeting organized by The Christian Science Monitor, became one of the most senior Western officials to publicly acknowledge the Islamic State's extensive reach into Europe, which has set off growing fears among American and European intelligence services and policy makers. The Islamic State has vowed to conduct attacks in those three European countries.

Western experts, however, emphasize that it is impossible to know where the next attack might take place.

Spurred by the Paris attacks in November and the assaults in Brussels last month, the United States has rushed to provide allies with intelligence from a variety of technical and human sources, as well as to offer long-term structural fixes to the Europeans' failure to share intelligence effectively and to tighten porous borders.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Clapper led a group of American intelligence officials who met in Germany with their European counterparts in what he said was an effort "to promote more sharing between and among the nations in Europe."

"That, right now, is a major emphasis of ours," he added.

Many European agencies, even those in the same country, still refuse to share basic intelligence among one other, leading to blind spots across the Continent that make it easier for terrorist groups to strike. Brussels has more than a dozen police forces, and French intelligence, police and judicial officials do not routinely share terrorism information, American intelligence and counterterrorism officials said.

Like Mr. Clapper, counterterrorism officials in Europe say they have indications from multiple sources that Britain, Germany and Italy, and perhaps other countries, are in the sights of the Islamic State's European networks.

The information comes from the Islamic State itself, which often signals its intentions, as well as from information gleaned from questioning suspects in plots that have been carried out or stopped, and from intercepts of telephone calls and online messages. Those communications, however, are hard to penetrate because the Islamic State has proved capable of covering its tracks, European investigators said.

Claude Moniquet, a former French intelligence officer who closely follows terrorism, said the British and Germans were especially concerned about the possibility of an Islamic State strike.

That would be true as well of the French and Belgians, whose intelligence services believe that both countries could be hit again. One of the figures involved in the attacks in both Brussels and Paris, Mohammed Abrini, was reported to have told investigators that the Islamic State was considering attacks during the Euro 2016 soccer tournament in June, which will be played in 10 stadiums throughout France. …

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